Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Psychiatric Tales, by Darryl Cunningham

Something that's caused me a lot of regret down the years has been the disconcerting ease with which I've managed to lose touch and drift away from various friends and acquaintances - especially in them black-and-white days before the web. 

Back in 1994 I published the first - and only - issue of a small-press comic called Bliss. It was mostly stuff I'd written (illustrated by myself and a couple of other people), but it also included an Olaf Stapledon-style prose story: A Short History of the Future by Darryl Cunningham. 

I'd become aware of Darryl's work a few years earlier when enthusiastic reviews pointed me towards Blood Relatives - a 48-page comic he published in 1989. The story was a visceral tale of the disturbingly close relationship between a brother and sister and its destructive consequences. 

Darryl's stark, angular style of illustration perfectly suited the hard-edged material, and his writing was forceful, perceptive and rich in imagery. 

He rapidly became one of my favourite comic creators, and we met through mutual friends at a couple of conventions in the mid-90s. However, I drifted away from the small press comics scene around the turn of the millennium and I lost track of how Darryl's work was developing.

Happily, Darryl seems - after a couple of ups and downs - to be getting on fine without my attention. Blank Slate Books has recently published his Psychiatric Tales - a nicely packaged hardback collection of pieces on mental health that he posted originally - in slightly different form - on his blog. 

Drawing on his experiences as a psychiatric care assistant and trainee nurse, he examines various forms of mental illness. However, the book really comes to life in its revealing and moving final chapter, 'How I Lived Again', in which he relates his own mental health issues and how he has emerged from them.

The book is a beautifully measured piece of work, with Darryl's expressive cartooning balancing nicely the documentary style of his narration. It's already been The Guardian's graphic novel of the month, and hopefully it'll receive a lot more recognition for the light it shines on areas that are still too often treated as taboo. 

I'm really pleased that Darryl is finding contentment as a person and fulfillment as an artist. Check out his blog - Darryl Cunningham Investigates - to see more of his work as a cartoonist, illustrator, photographer and sculptor.

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